Leaders of the Episcopal Church in Alabama were vocal in their belief that slavery was a benign institution. “Its members tended to be disproportionaately slaveowners,” Vaughn said. “They believed there wasn’t any discrepancy between the Christian message and slave ownership. They didn’t see any conflict at all. They were blinded by their financial self-interests.”
One of the towering but controversial figures in Alabama’s church history was Bishop C.C.J. Carpenter, who was scolded by both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and by Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who took part in marches in Selma in 1965 and was killed in Hayneville protecting a black girl from a shotgun blast. Daniels defied Carpenter, coming to Alabama in spite of Carpenter’s warning to outside agitators. Daniels and other Episcopal seminarians picketed Carpenter House, the diocesan headquarters in Birmingham, and wrote that “The Carpenter of Birmingham must not be allowed to forever deny the Carpenter of Nazareth,” in a harsh letter to Carpenter.
“I think Carpenter was a great bishop in many ways,” Vaughn said. “He’s remembered as a kindly, warm grandfatherly figure. He increased membership; he increased the budget. He just didn’t get it though when it came to the civil rights movement.”